Applications of stretchable electronics
Jul 24, 2013 Raghu Das
Stretchable electronics has been one of the least exploited but most researched sectors of the new electronics over the past decade. Stretchable electronics concerns electrical and electronic circuits and combinations of these that are elastically or inelastically stretchable by more than a few percent while retaining function. For that, they tend to be laminar and usually thin. The IDTechEx Research report Stretchable Electronics Comes to Market covers the activity of 56 companies bringing the technology to market.
Commercialization is elusive, though there are some initial adoptions such as moldable parts in vehicles and shape changing electroactive polymers for haptic response. New devices also include Reebok's head impact indicator "CheckLight". These are just the beginning, with end users and participants seeing huge potential.
Electronics that are very elastic or deformable without loss of function has seen several hundred million dollars spent by universities on such research so far and more modest tens of millions of dollars has been raised by companies to pursue the opportunity. A notable example of this was the 2012 round of $12.5 million by MC10 in the USA, a company exclusively dedicated to commercializing stretchable electronics. Others are involved in the materials to enable stretchable electronics such as carbon nanotubes.
Five types of stretchable electronics
There are five types of stretchable electronics, as shown below.
Source: IDTechEx report Stretchable Electronics Comes to Market
The popular approach of having rigid components in stretchable electronics with only the interconnects flexible is appropriate for sophisticated healthcare products, for example needing considerable processing power or intense LED light (eg for oncology). The applications targeted are primarily in healthcare, including health-related monitoring and management for military purposes and sport.
Researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University, USA, working with a team of scientists from the USA and abroad, have recently developed a design that allows electronics to bend and stretch to more than 200% their original size - four times greater than is possible with today's technology in production. The key is, by combining a liquid metal in a porous polymer they achieved impressive stretchability in a material that does not suffer from stretch. Once you achieve that technology, any electronic can behave like a rubber band, they point out.
Research by territory
About 40% of the research and commercialization of stretchable electronics takes place in the USA, with the UK, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Korea and Japan, also making a broad impact. This IDTechEx report Stretchable Electronics Comes to Market examines who is bringing what to market and why and it analyses where the most promising opportunities lie. It scopes the emerging stretchable technologies, many of which promise huge improvements, opening yet more potential markets.
Main areas the report covers
The report examines how stretchable technology fits into the electronics and end user markets, the materials and applications that look most promising, and the lessons of success and failure. Profiles are provided of 56 organizations worldwide that have made significant advances in this industry.
This report should be read by those developing, manufacturing and selling stretchable electronics and those that seek to do so, also those wishing to do product integration involving stretchable electronics. Those seeking to improve procedures, capability, safety cost and efficiency particularly in healthcare, sport, military, automotive and consumer electronics and electrics sectors will find this of great value. In addition, it would be beneficial to investors and potential investors in leading edge electronics and electric companies and materials scientists, electronics and electrical industry professionals.
For more information see www.IDTechEx.com/stretch.
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